Catholics had cause for relief on July 8, 2019, when the good news came out that the California legislature is no longer attempting to force priests to break the seal of Confession. This victory came from the efforts of tens of thousands of Catholics who protested. Among those opposing the measure were friends and supporters of the American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property (TFP) who petitioned the California State Senate to stop attacking the seal of Confession.
However, concerned Catholics should not pretend that the peril has passed. This attempt is not the first, nor will it be the last. Enemies of the Church have always hated the seal of Confession. It is time to be vigilant lest the attack reappears soon.
The California Proposal
The proposal was known as SB 360. It would have changed California’s child sexual predator reporting law.
About thirty years ago, most states passed laws that required those in professions in contact with children—like social workers, camp counselors, and coaches to report suspected cases of physical abuse. The special relationship between penitent and confessor was protected by exempting priests from these laws in much the same way as lawyers and physicians.
SB 360 would have altered this level of confidentially by taking away some cases of exemption, and thus forcing priests to reveal details of confessions to law enforcement.
The bill seemed ready to pass when its sponsor suddenly withdrew the bill. That is a victory. According to Catholic News Agency, “Over 100,000 Catholics sent letters voicing their opposition to SB 360.” Several bishops strongly opposed the proposal and asked priests to read a pastoral letter from the pulpit.
Typical of those speaking out against the bill was the Most Rev. Michael Barber, Bishop of Oakland, “I will go to jail before I will obey this attack on our religious freedom… Even if this bill passes, no priest may obey it.”
Archbishop José Gómez Velasco of Los Angeles made a statement after the danger passed, “SB 360 was a dangerous piece of legislation. It was a threat to the Sacrament of Confession that would have denied the right to confidential confessions to priests and tens of thousands of Catholics who work with priests in parishes and other Church agencies and ministries.”
Without question, this victory shows the power of the Catholic laity when it works together under the clear leadership of the Bishops.
The Continuing Peril
Over the years, the American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property–TFP has successfully fought against attempts to pass similar laws in other states. In the current battle, the American TFP collected some 8728 signatures of protest directed to the California State Senate.
When New Hampshire tried to break the confessional seal in the 2003 struggle, John Horvat II wrote, “Confession or Penance is a Sacrament instituted by Our Lord Jesus Christ, whereby the Catholic priest, serving as a visible instrument of the Savior, in His name and by His Divine power, pardons the sins confessed to him. And since Confession would become odious without an absolute guarantee of secrecy, the latter is an indispensable condition for the Sacrament.”
In 2006, the American TFP further stated the Church’s traditional position, “If, on the natural plane, confidentiality in counseling is essential for the good functioning of society, on the supernatural plane—where the Sacrament of Confession rests—confidentiality is an absolute necessity. The need for confidentiality stems not merely from a law of the natural order, but from an imposition of Divine Law which allows no exception.”
Under no circumstances should Catholics rest easy after the California victory. For leftists, a defeat only means that it is time to change strategy and look for another opportunity to attack.
The Path Ahead
The victory shows how effective Catholic protests can be when laity springs to action. It also shows the importance of good leadership on the part of the bishops in defense of Church teaching. The simple message of the Church put to flight the most progressive state legislature in the country.
Catholics should take note that their voice can be heard. They should disregard those who say that opposition is useless. They should, above all, trust in God and the Blessed Virgin.
May Our Lady, Patroness of America, protect us from religious persecution and obtain from her Divine Son courage and perseverance for all American Catholics in the struggle to defend the Church.